DINUBA – Stop, drop and roll your shopping cart right back to the store, because the city of Dinuba is turning up the heat on shopping cart theft.
To cut down on abandoned shopping carts scattered around town, the Dinuba City Council passed an ordinance at their meeting on Aug. 22 that outlines measures businesses must take to ensure carts are not stolen from their property. The first reading of the ordinance passed with a 5-0 vote, and the council plans to officially adopt it upon a second reading at their next meeting Sept. 26.
“The purpose of this ordinance is really to add another tool for city staff to deal with abandoned shopping carts, which have become a problem in the recent months,” City Attorney David Yanez said.
The ordinance adds a “shopping carts” chapter to Title 9 of the Dinuba Municipal Code that says abandoned carts create hazards for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and cause a blight on the city that reduces property values.
Within the ordinance are two main requirements: cart owners must have some type of cart containment system to keep carts on their property, and they must equip their carts with identifying signage so abandoned carts can be returned easily. Signage should also include an alert to customers that removal of the cart from store property is prohibited by law.
A cart containment system could look like a disabling device attached to a cart wheel that prevents the cart from being taken beyond a store’s parking lot or any other equipment approved by the city manager.
City councilors commented that these methods are not foolproof, because signage is easy to rip off carts and some disabling devices can also be kicked off; but they noted this ordinance is a good place to start.
Businesses can be exempt from the containment requirement if they contract with a “qualified cart retrieval service,” that collects abandoned carts in the area and returns them to the store. Assistant City Manager Daniel James said the city has been working with a third-party contractor who was already employed to retrieve carts for Walmart, CVS and Walgreens in Dinuba.
James said the city asked the contractor to expand their radius to pick up other carts for the city, but the problem is that many do not have signage, so the carts cannot be returned to the proper owner. He said 15 to 20 carts have been collected each week for the last two to three weeks.
Abdul Ali, corporate director for local Tropicana Supermarket, said their store does not have a cart containment system but does contract out to get their carts returned. He said that with a parking lot of their size, it would run them thousands of dollars to use a containment system for their 150 carts.
Dinuba city staff will work on outreach to local businesses to inform them that the city is collecting abandoned carts and business owners will have the opportunity to retrieve their carts from city storage. However, if a business does not retrieve its carts within three days of notification from the city, it will incur a fine, and if it does not retrieve its carts within 30 days, the carts will be disposed of by the city.
Violations of the ordinance would result in an administrative citation from the city, although people cited for unlawfully possessing a cart could be charged with theft by the property owner.
“It would be the business’s responsibility to take action there,” Yanez said.
Councilmember Linda Launer said this is a problem the city has always had, and it puts businesses in jeopardy when they lose expensive property. A single cart can cost hundreds of dollars; according to Ali, the carts at Tropicana Supermarket are $220 each.
“We have those who go shopping, they push (the cart) along the road to get to their home, empty it and then just abandon it,” Launer said. “It’s not because the business owners are the ones that allowed it … (but) now they’re in that situation of having to have somebody come in and haul it.”
When that occurs, people experiencing homelessness then often pick up the carts to carry their possessions, which makes it more difficult for the city and businesses to return carts to the owner.
Ali said the store’s regular customers often take carts home, and they tend to have 20 to 30 carts taken from their property every week.
“Another major issue is with people picking up shopping carts from the streets stating they are returning them to the local businesses, but that’s not true,” Ali said. “They steal the carts and sell them to other businesses or sell them as recycled metal.”
Yanez said the ordinance stipulates that violations “may be enforced through any of the penalties for municipal code violations,” but the city cannot seize a cart from someone who is using it for their belongings without providing them with a proper notice first.
Ali said Tropicana would consider pursuing criminal charges against people who steal their carts and he feels that the city needs to get code enforcement involved and “start issuing citations to individuals walking around town with business shopping carts.”